Last week I showed a young guy from Singapore around London. We spent the whole day together and in the afternoon, found ourselves by The Monument, just north of London Bridge. It'd been years since I'd traipsed up the 311 steps to the viewing platform, 160 feet (48.7 metres) above ground. Yong Hao, who I was with was incredibly keen to go up, so we paid our £3 (he very kindly paid for me) and began our ascent. It dawned on me, that I'd never written specifically about The Monument, so am rectifying that now.
Monuments in general are usually erected to commemorate specific events, so they naturally form part of a much larger picture than just the stone that was used to make it, or the architects whose vision it was. The Monument I suppose is reasonably intriguing in this respect as its very being manages to encapsulate the essence of modern London, and is completely entwined with so many facets of the City's history and the people responsible for both its destruction and its rebuilding. For starters, it's simply called 'The Monument' ... which would indicate that any other monument anywhere must surely pale in to insignificance. As people who have been on my walks can testify, I can talk about the Great Fire of London for hours. I don't though, because that would be incredibly tedious, but suffice to say it is a fascinating, remarkable and catastrophic period of London's history. As ever, to do it justice here would be entirely inadequate (which is why there are entire books on the subject) so I shall give you a light dusting, a sprinkling of information about The Monument, which if you didn't already know, commemorates, the Great Fire of London, which in the 17th century, burned and destroyed the vast majority of the medieval (and largely wooden) City of London.
The Great Fire of London began in a baker's house on Pudding Lane belonging to a guy called Thomas Farriner (or Farynor). It began in the early hours of the 2nd September 1666 and as you can imagine, got pretty out of hand. So much, so than in about four days it had burned down approximately 14,000 homes, 87 churches and about 100,000 people were forced to flee the City. That is an incredibly abridged version of events that makes no mention of the political climate, the wind, the preceding hot summer, the plague year of 1665, the inept Mayor Thomas Bludworth or the fact that instead of trying to put out the fire, many Londoner's ran around in mobs murdering foreigners. The wooden City was turned to ash, and from those ashes a new City was built, this time out of stone and brick (a good idea) largely by Christopher Wren (Surveyor General to King Charles II) and his right hand man, Robert Hooke. If you haven't heard of Hooke, then the name Wren might be familiar, as he rebuilt 51 of the City churches, including St Paul's cathedral ... which had also succumbed to the fire.
One of the churches that was not rebuilt was called St Margaret on Fish Street Hill, but on the site where it had stood, it was decided to build a monument to commemorate the fire and celebrate the rebuilding of the City. It was finished by Wren and Hooke in 1677, and is the same one, myself and Yong Hao climbed just last week. At a total of 202ft (61 metres) tall, The Monument is the largest free standing stone column in the world, and the idea apparently is that if it were to fall to the east (which hopefully it won't) the top would reach the spot where the fire began. If you're not claustrophobic, scared of heights or unable to climb all those steps, then the viewing platform (for a very small fee) gives you really great 360 degree views across London.
The pictures above from left to right show the Thames and Tower Bridge (unfortunately the Tower itself has recently disappeared behind a new building development), the Shard just south of the river, the view to the west, which includes the dome of St Paul's cathedral, and in the distance, the BT Tower (originally Post Office Tower), the first building in London to be taller than St Paul's. Finally, the view north is dominated by a cluster of the City's newer additions, which continue to develop.
As you're either going up or coming down the staircase, keep an eye out for bits of graffiti, which are still carved in the walls. The one on the photo below was evidently etched in to the wall in 1770, just 20 years after the picture you can see at the top of the page was made. I should mention that when you reach the bottom, you are handed a certificate to verify that you have indeed just ascended and descended all 311 steps, and the drawing forms the front and is reproduced courtesy of Guildhall Library.
On final point I will mention is that when you exit, turn to your left, have a look at the inscription on the north facing part of the base. There is a latin inscription, which details the rebuilding of the City after the fire. If like me you can't read latin, then don't worry because all of the inscriptions have an English translation. At the bottom you'll discover that in 1830 a line was deleted. It said "But Popish frenzy which wrought such horrors is not yet quenched" which in my own layman's terms can be read as "The Catholic's did this and we still haven't sorted them out".
On this note, I'll end my very brief post about The Monument and the Fire of London by mentioning that today we are generally told that the Great Fire of 1666 was an accident, but at the time (and for a long time after) it was anything but ... it was considered to be a terrorist attack. Very often, history has a habit of teaching us that in the grand scheme of things ... very little has changed.
I met some lovely people last weekend on my regular guided walks around London and despite the mildly dismal weather, managed to do all three walks.
On Saturday morning Hilppa and Kari from Finland came along on the walk from Trafalgar Square to St Paul's. Here they are on Fleet Street outside the church of St Dunstan-in-the-West with its rather magnificent clock which dates back to 1671 and aside from having two giant figures (possibly Gog and Magog) who strike the hours and quarters with their clubs, also features in the courtyard, a statue of Elizabeth I carved in 1586, during the famous Queen's own life time.
In the afternoon, Dave and Christina, who came on one of my very first walks just over two years ago, returned to complete 'The Trilogy' and brought with them, Dave's parents, visiting for the weekend from Manchester. They were joined by Kristine, Mette and Trine from Denmark and off we went, leaving the City of London and headed over to Bankside on the south side of the Thames. Here they are just outside Shakespeare's Globe Theatre with the ever changing City skyline behind them. Dave's mum was particularly intrigued by Rafael Vinoly's building, 20 Fenchurch Street which previously garnered the nick name the 'walkie talkie' due to its rather top heavy appearance, and in the summer having gained headlines for scorching other buildings (and a car) got a new name ... the 'walkie scorchie'.
Not long after the photo was taken, the sky turned black and we got caught in a thunder storm, so were forced to take refuge from the torrential rain in The George Inn on Borough High Street. Still, there are far worse pubs to have to have a drink in.
I think that on Sunday it rained pretty much non stop for the entire walk. I was impressed that almost all of those who had booked actually turned up (as it was already raining before we started), but not only that, they stuck out the entire thing ... until the bitter rain drenched end. Aside from being a hardy bunch, they were also great fun to show around Shoreditch. Here they are just before exploring a rather quieter than usual Columbia Road Flower Market.
Special award for completing 'The Trilogy' - Dave and Christina
Wettest Walk - Sunday
Most (literally) amusing name - Joke (although she undoubtedly doesn't find it remotely funny)
Best moustache - No winners
Best unveiling of a high vis jacket - Ian
Best unpleasant weather endurance skills - Joke, Bruno, Angie, David, Fiona & Paul
I actually have two weekends worth of walks to roundup, so I shall begin with the previous weekend (11th & 12th January) which began with a mighty group, comprising of the extended family of the Robertson's who were celebrating a 70th birthday. Here they are outside St Paul's cathedral at the end of the walk.
In the afternoon, the group was rather smaller and I took Lindsay, Brian and Clementine over the Millennium Bridge to Bankside, where I took the below photo. St Paul's cathedral can be seen behind them.
On Sunday 12th January, Marcus & Karen returned for their second walk with me, and were joined by Mel, Jonathan, Pete and Alec. We began (as we often do on Sundays) in Old Street, exploring around Shoreditch and Hoxton, before finishing by Spitalfields. Here they are outside Hawksmoor's Christchurch on Fournier Street.
So, catching up with the weekend just gone (18th & 19th January) on Saturday morning I met Imogen and Celyn who have only just recently moved to London, so wanted to discover a bit more about this city they now call home. They were joined by Karen, Jacques and Pablo who is over for a month from Spain. They were a lovely group, and I took the photo of them below on Carter Lane, just outside the YHA hostel by St Paul's cathedral, which provides cheap accommodation, right in the heart of the City of London. The best thing about this particular building is that it looks incredibly grandiose from the outside, albeit in a slightly dilapidated, endearing way. It was originally built to house the choir boys who sang at the cathedral.
The walk around east London took place rather later than usual, which is why, when I took the photo of the group on Folgate Street at the end of the walk, it was already a bit dark. They're standing outside the rather incredible Dennis Sever's House, which if you visit, takes you on a 200 year journey through the lives and home of the fictitious Huguenot weavers of the Jervis family.
Most family members on one walk - Robertson family
Most French - Clemetine
Best moustache - No winners
Most appropriate surname - Walker (Imogen)
Pinkest coat - Jan, the birthday girl.
The Charterhouse - Smithfield
It seems that not a day goes by when I don't hear or read about something in London, be it a bar, restaurant, museum, building, house ... or whatever, heralded as one of 'London's hidden gems'. It is true, there are many of them, and it's just one of the long list of things I love about this city. One place however, which must surely have an incredibly valid claim for actually being such a place (and near the top of the 'hidden gem' charts), is the Charterhouse in Smithfield, or to refer to it by its official name ... Sutton's Hospital in Charterhouse.
To say that the experience of walking through Charterhouse is 'magical' would be an understatement, as testified by the amount of film producers that have used its buildings, courtyards and rooms as film sets. Although, you can join occasional tours, Charterhouse is not commonly open to the public. In essence, it is a retirement home and 'the brothers' who live there ... actually do live there, enjoying the peace and tranquility of a life that seems almost protected from the outside world.
The current buildings (many of which are ancient) occupy the site of a former Carthusian Monastery, first established in 1371. The order was founded by Saint Bruno in the 11th century, who had his first hermitage in the valley of the Chartreuse Mountains in the French Alps, which is where the word 'Charterhouse' is derived.
Until the 1530's, vast tracts of land belonged to religious orders (just a short walk away, you can still pass through St John's Gate, once part of the area belonging to the Knights Hospitallers). All this came to an end when Henry VIII broke with the Roman Catholic Church, but the Carthusians refused to conform to the King's 'Act of Supremacy' and many of them were executed at Tyburn (now Marble Arch) as a result. The Monastery buildings were turned in to a fine Tudor mansion, passing through various owners during the remaining years of Henry VIII, throughout the reign of Elizabeth I (who visited Charterhouse on a number of occasions) and through to the early 17th century when James I became King. It was during this time, in 1611 in fact, when the current story of Charterhouse begins. It was bought by a self made man, an incredibly wealthy and not to mention generous and philanthropic individual called Thomas Sutton.
Sutton set up a Charitable Foundation to educate boys and to care for elderly men, known as 'brothers'. The school, Charterhouse, still exists today, but moved to Godalming in Surrey in 1872, whilst the 'brothers' (and I think there are currently about 45 of them) still reside in the buildings you can see pictured. There was perhaps not surprisingly, considerable bomb damage during WWII (the 40 acre site, obliterated at the same time and now houses the Barbican Centre is just a few minutes walk away), but was faithfully restored and has seen new buildings added as recently as 2001. The tour I went on, began in the chapel, which was largely saved during the Blitz, due to the huge oak door (fortunately closed at the time) which absorbed a substantial amount of bomb impact. You can see on the photo below (left) that the door still hangs there today as a reminder, albeit about half the size.
As I mentioned, the Charterhouse still houses 'the Brothers', and two of them showed us around on the tour I joined, and it really did feel like we were being let in on a secret, a true hidden London gem, as we saw the Great Hall where they eat together each day (and have done for over 400 years), the only surviving part of the old 14th century Norfolk Cloister where the monks had their cells, courtyards, corridors and of course sprinkling the whole thing with the site's incredibly rich and intriguing history.
As far as I know, tours take place on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays and every other Saturday and cost £10. If you are able to join one, I can highly recommend it. It seems as well, that plans are afoot to open a more permanent museum in a few years time, which is great news.
A New Year of weekend walks kicked off last Saturday morning, with four lovely Italians from Verona. Antonella, Maurizio, Bruna and Paolo joined me for the walk from Trafalgar Square to St Paul's, via Covent Garden (where the photo below was taken) and Fleet Street. As it was just them and we seemed to be on schedule, we stopped off for a quick drink at Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese along the way. They were a great bunch to have on my first weekend walk of 2014.
In the afternoon I met Katie and Karan who have been living in the City of London for the last 7 months or so on a sort of work sabbatical, and their friend Arielle who was over on holiday. I met them by St Paul's cathedral, and we headed over to explore Bankside & Borough. Here they are in Southwark.
Sunday was a bumper group of students from Buffalo in New York, with their rather brilliant Professor ... Debi. I met them in Old Street, and we explored around Shoreditch, Hoxton, Columbia Road and Spitalfields. Here they all are, standing on the steps of Christchurch, Spitalfields.
Best Translator - Antonella
Biggest group - Sunday ... obviously.
Rainiest walk - Saturday morning
Name apparently most like that of a mermaid - Arielle
Most gastronomically sociologically aware group - Sunday
Private WAlks - December 2013
I shall begin this by saying 'Happy New Year'. I guess I should be looking forward to the coming year (which I am of course) but will kick off 2014 by looking back at the 'Private Walks' I did in December 2013.
In case you are unaware, as well as my regular weekend 'pay want you want' walks, I also do what I call 'Private Walks' during the week (mostly), which in December included exploring all over London, a couple of pub crawls, a Christmas Party and with families and couples visiting London.
So ... starting with the top left we have Holly and her parents Geoff & Lucy in Spitalfields (east London) which had been booked by Holly for her dad's birthday. Next up we have Craig feeling right at home in the American Bar of the Stafford Hotel. This cozy bar, situated just of St James Street is positively festooned with Americana; ties, baseball caps, American football helmets, photographs and letters from various patrons that have stayed at this rather splendid hotel, ever since it became a haven for American and Canadian officers in London during WWII. Staying in the vicinity, we have Sandra & Joakim (from Sweden) in St James's Park, the oldest of London's eight Royal Parks. Finally, we have David, Lori, Steven and Karen in front of St James's church, Piccadilly, which we passed whilst exploring the area of Westminster.
Beginning top left again we have Maggie and her husband sitting next to one of Edwin Landseer's famous lion sculptures that adorn the base of Nelson's Column in Trafalgar Square. One Monday evening (top right) I did a pub crawl with a group (many of whom had come on walks with me before) starting from their office in an area called More London, just south of London Bridge and then headed over the river in to the City of London. Bottom left was a work Christmas doo, organised by Keith, who had done one of my Sunday east London walks earlier in the year. They're pictured in Covent Garden, shortly before depositing them at Simpson's-in-the-Strand, where they had lunch booked. Simpson's has been serving up fine heart British fare for over 170 years and unusually for a restaurant, has a strong sporting connection. It is regarded as 'the home of chess'. Finally we have Scott and Joe in Trafalgar Square, with the church of St Martin-in-the-Fields behind them. As you can tell from the name of the church, the area has changed quite a bit over the years.
Above left, we have Dru and her family standing in front of the Trafalgar Square Christmas tree, which has been sent over from Norway, every year since 1947; a token of gratitude for British support during WWII. Last, but not least, we have Laurence and Salome who came on a walk around east London, just a few days ago. They were staying in Shoreditch and wanted to have a bit of an explore of the area.
Bowl Of Chalk
Bowl Of Chalk based shenanigans.